A Grand Rapids police detective and an FBI agent arrested James King, then a student at Grand Valley State University, as he walked to his summer job with a science education non-profit, on July 18, 2014, according to a lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court. King has dropped out of school and his life has never been the same since the arrest, King’s lawyer Patrick Jaicomo said.
“The main thing he’s trying to get is some sort of justice out of this situation, because this incident derailed his life at the age of 21,” Jaicomo, an attorney with Miller, Johnson, Snell & Cummiskey, told the Daily News. “Instead of saying, ‘Sorry, this was a terrible mistake,’ they charged him with three felonies.”
Jill Washburn, a spokeswoman for the Detroit office of the FBI, declined to comment on the pending lawsuit. Grand Rapids City Attorney Catherine Mish didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday night.
The fugitive task force officers believed King, now 23 years old, looked like their vague available description of a wanted home invasion suspect seen the day before in Grand Rapids, according to the lawsuit. The actual wanted man, Aaron Davison, 28, is now behind bars for second-degree home invasion, inmate records show.
Yet King, who didn’t notice the badges on the lanyards the officers were wearing, thought they were mugging him and tried to run away after the FBI agent, Douglas Brownback, took King’s wallet, the lawsuit said.
Brownback and Detective Todd Allen tackled King to the ground and Allen put King in a chokehold that left him unconscious, according to the document. Neither told him they were law enforcement officers. They said in later testimony they had decided to arrest King when he initially said he had no identification yet was carrying a wallet, the lawsuit said.
King woke up and bit Allen’s arm to try again to get away, the documents said. Allen then began hitting King in the head and face “as hard as I could, as fast as I could, and as many times as I could,” he later said, according to the lawsuit. Bystanders on Leonard St. dialed 911, and uniformed officers arrived on the scene.
That’s when the third officer named in the lawsuit, Grand Rapids police Officer Connie Morris, convinced two witnesses who had filmed the beating on their phones to erase the videos, the documents said.
“We got undercover officers there. No pictures. Delete it. Delete it. It’s for the safety of the officers,” Morris said, according to the lawsuit. “All we used to do was tell the story; we didn’t have a picture to tell the story with, right? Did you delete it? … We don’t need no pictures.”
The ordeal continued for King, who could be seen in his mug shot with his face swollen and in pictures three days later with the whites of his eyes turned almost entirely black and red.
Prosecutors charged him with assaulting a police officer, assaulting an officer and causing injury and assault with a dangerous weapon, referring to the handcuffs on one of his wrists when he tried to run away, according to the lawsuit. A jury later cleared him on all the charges.
Yet his family spent their life savings on his legal expenses in the trial and he suffered mental and physical injuries, lost wages and diminished future earning potential, the lawsuit said. He seeks damages for violations of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.